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The disability divide in internet access and use

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The increasing spread of the Internet holds much potential for enhancing opportunities for people with disabilities. However, scarce evidence exists to suggest that people with disabilities are, in fact, participating in these new developments. Will the spread of information technologies (IT) increase equality by offering opportunities for people with disabilities? Or will a growing reliance on IT lead to more inequality by leaving behind certain portions of the population including people with disabilities? In this paper, the authors draw on nationally representative data regarding Americans' Internet uses to (1) identify the extent to which people with disabilities are embracing use of the Internet; (2) how their use of the Internet compares with the Internet uses of the rest of the population; (3) how having a disability relates to and interacts with other social statuses (e.g. socioeconomic status, age, gender) with regard to Internet use; and (4) what explains these trends. They draw on representative data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census of the United States to answer these questions. It is found that people with disabilities are less likely to live in households with computers, are less likely to use computers and are less likely to be online. However, once socioeconomic background is controlled for, it is found that people with hearing disabilities and those who have limited walking ability are not less likely to be Internet users. This research enables a deeper understanding of both the use of the Internet by people with disabilities and the spread of new IT more generally.
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Keywords: Internet use; digital divide; digital inequality; disability

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 2240 Campus Dr., Evanston, IL, 60208, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2006

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